NEW YORK – On Tuesday, the USTA unveiled the new retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. The roof marks the end of a three-year transformation for the stadium, just in time for the 2016 U.S. Open, which starts on Aug. 29 and runs until Sept. 11. But the operation of the roof seemed just as unpredictable as the weather for which it was built, as it took three tries to open the roof after it was initially closed.
Wife of the late Arthur Ashe, Jeanne Ashe, did the honors of opening the roof, while tennis legend Billie Jean King closed it. With the ability to close in less than ten minutes, rain delays and cancellations will be more easily avoided.
The roof, which is 7,000 tons, is independent from the venue, which means it serves as more of an umbrella-type structure. This particular structure was chosen because of the difficult land conditions below the 23,771-capacity stadium. The $150 million dollar structure was designed by ROSSETTI, a Detroit-based architecture firm that built the original Arthur Ashe Stadium 19 years ago.
In the years since the construction of the original venue in 1997, the U.S. Open schedule has been plagued by weather delays and cancellations. While it is obvious that the retractable roof will be of a benefit to spectators at the stadium, Smith said it will also be an upgrade for athletes who have been forced to play or sit through not-so-pleasant weather conditions.
“It will be much better than it’s ever been,” he said. “It used to be if it rained, they knew it was 30, 45 minutes, an hour or longer. Now they know, ‘Okay, five or 10 minutes, I’m going to be back on the court, I can stay focused, I can stay concentrated,’ so I actually think it will give them the ability to stay focused and to concentrate, and give us a better quality of play.”
Among other venues that already have retractable roofs over their main stadiums are Wimbledon and the Australian Open, which has three stadiums with retractable roofs. While the U.S. Open’s main concern is rain, in Australia, they must also deal with extreme heat. However, the new roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium will only close for rain.
The new retractable roof is among the various improvements the Billie Jean King Tennis Center is getting. Fans at the U.S. Open this year will be able to sit in a brand new Grandstand Stadium, which features 8,125 seats, and the southern campus is also being renovated so fans can move more easily around the center.